Astronomy Benalla
Reports - 2011
Report From 2011 Border Stargaze - By Wayne Roberts Having heard only good things about both the venue for the Border Stargaze and the event itself (other than for the atrocious weather the last year), my sense of anticipation heightened as I turned off the Hume late Friday morning. The countryside looked inviting as I negotiated Wymah Rd; before long there was the sign indicating the entrance to the Wymah Valley Holiday Camp. Driving into the site I was gob-smacked: it was all I had heard and more, set in a natural depression surrounded by rolling hills on three sides and a vast and beautiful body of water on the other. The viewing area was huge and smoothly grassed and had already amassed a considerable number of 'scopes, with yet another area where the astrophotography crew had set up. First driving through the site and then walking around it, it was obvious that the facilities were first class; in addition the associated tariffs were very reasonable. Having registered, set up my tent, attended a couple of excellent presentations and met up with fellow Astronomy Benalla attendees – Rupe and Gwen Cheetham, Dave and  Cynthia Web and Jan Andrews were also present – I looked forward to the coming nights viewing activities. While the turn out of the general public was less than anticipated – thanks mainly to a less than generous approach to event advertising by sections of the local media – there was no shortage of eager requests and enquiries from those present as the night began to unfold. At this point I should confess that I do not always document my viewing sessions – an alternative title for this article: “Confessions of an Amateur Astronomer” – but have done so on this occasion, albeit in an abbreviated fashion. Soon, both in response to requests and taking the opportunity to introduce the night sky to those unfamiliar with it, the 'scope started swinging to the perennial favourites. Globular clusters ω (omega)  Centauri and 47 Tucanae, open cluster the Jewel Box (NGC 4755 in Crux) along with others of the same ilk spread along the milky way,  double stars α (alpha) Centauri and α Crucis and the faint but still impressive galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128) wowed young and old alike. While Centaurus A does not present well visually unless viewed  under a very dark sky, those shown it are invariably impressed when informed that, at 300,000 kilometres per second, the image they are looking at has been travelling for 10 million years. This brings me to my only criticism of the event – the excessive and avoidable levels of light pollution from dwellings, light fixtures and vehicles – I'm sure that the event organisers from the Astronomical Society of Albury-Wodonga, who did an excellent job in all other respects, will improve on this in coming years. Later on, with the numbers of the general public thinning and a 17mm eyepiece fitted (yielding a magnification of 88x) the swath of lesser globulars in Sagittarius and Scorpius beckoned. M22 and M28, above the lid of the 'teapot' were first, then M54, M70 and M69 along and close to the teapot's baseline, followed by M55 on the opposite side of the teapot to Scorpius and NGC 6723 , below the asterism on the border with Corona Australis. Next came NGC 6541 in Corona Australis itself; then switching to Scorpius, M4 adjacent to Antares, M80  halfway between Antares and one of the scorpion's eyes and NGC 6388 below the tail. Of the above, 'lesser' is a misnomer when applied to M22, M55 and M4 – they are all beauties in their own right; 6723 and 6541 were noticeably smaller than the afore-mentioned trio through the eyepiece and just comfortably visible through the finder scope and the others were smaller again through the eyepiece and barely non-stellar  in the finder. Then turning to galaxies, I bathed my eyes in NGC 253 and NGC 55 in Sculptor. These two – the first near the border with Taurus, the other on the boundary with Phoenix – are in my opinion the two stand-out galaxies of the night sky. While enjoying 253, I hopped over to globular cluster NGC 288, just barely out of the field of view and almost on a par with M22 and company. Next galaxy to grace the eyepiece was NGC 300, relatively faint and diffuse and still in Sculptor, just above the border with Phoenix and forming the pivot of a right angled triangle with 253 and 55. Finally came NGC 247 on the other side of 253 to 300 and about half as far from it, the three forming a straight line. 247 stands out a little more than 300. I packed up at 12:30 due to encroaching dew. While the eyepiece and finder scope were still O.K., the telrad (a device which projects a bulls-eye onto a non-magnified view of the sky and the assistance of which I find invaluable) was being swamped. Either the battery or the dew suppression system itself is at fault here; this is an issue which is becoming a real bug-bear and demands attention. After a reasonably comfortable night in the tent I arose early next morning and enjoyed a hearty breakfast. A quick trip into Albury to repair a broken arm on my reading glasses was followed by good company and more excellent presentations then with darkness approaching I headed back onto the observing field, with more globulars and some nebulae in mind. First globular cluster for the night was M5 in Serpens Caput near the border with Virgo. M5 was on a par with M22, with a slightly more condensed core. Then came M30 in Capricornus near the border with Piscis Austrinus and similar to the pair of 6723 and 6541; followed by M2, a little better than this trio and forming the pivot of a near-right angled triangle with α and β (beta) Aquarii, the two brightest stars of Aquarius. Staying in Aquarius but moving to where this constellation takes a 'bite' out of Capricornus, M72 was seen to be similar to the trio of faint globulars along the teapot's baseline viewed early the previous night. Moving to Ophiuchus which shares borders with Scorpius and Sagittarius among others, the final two globulars viewed were M9, not far from the borders of Sagittarius and Serpens Cauda and M19, on the opposite side of Antares as M4 but about six times as distant. Whereas a subsequent check in a star atlas indicated that M9 has the same magnitude as the teapot trio and M19 is brighter again, on a par with M28, they both  presented as the faintest of all globulars viewed, appearing as just faint stars through the finder. This illustrates the sometimes misleading nature of quoted magnitudes for extended – i.e. non stellar – objects: magnitudes given represent the total light output of the extended region, and a large object will appear fainter than a small object with the same stated magnitude. Personally, I would like to see a scale developed in which the figure quoted is representative of the brightness rather than the light output. With the last organised function of the weekend approaching, that of the trivia quiz, I moved to the first nebula of the two day session – planetary nebula NGC 7293, which forms the apex of an isosceles triangle with M30 and the star Formalhaut (α Piscis Austrini). Through heavy light pollution – at this early stage, a road light due to be turned off later was still blazing – it appeared very faint, although quite large. Temporarily suspending viewing activities, I returned to the main hall for the trivia quiz. With those present organised into seven teams, Team Benalla was prominent throughout and eventually both claimed and exercised bragging rights! Back to the 'scope with a view to 'capturing a conglomeration of nebulae and open clusters above the teapot. As I began however, a couple at a neighbouring 'scope were viewing the Veil Nebula (NGC 6992), the brightest part of a huge supernova remnant (NGC 6960) in the constellation Cygnus near the border with Vulpecula. Having not viewed the Veil before I first asked for a look through their 'scope (amateur astronomers are always willing to share their trade), then lined my own up on it. The Veil itself is huge – the supernova remnant of which it is part is humongous – and while I could see it faintly, a deep sky filter which subdues star light while allowing the passage of other wavelengths was needed to get a good view. Tellingly, even with the filter, the view through my 'scope was noticeably poorer than that of my neighbour's, a testament to the importance of using high quality eyepieces; theirs being superior to the one I was using. Returning to my program, I turned the 'scope on M17 the Swan Nebula, then needed to fit the afore-mentioned filter to detect nearby M16, which is a combination nebula/open cluster. Not far away and a little closer to the teapot, M20 the Triffid Nebula and M8 the Lagoon Nebula were easy captures, as was M24 the Sagittarius Star Cloud. As with the previous night, and at very nearly the same time, dew on the finder scope got the better of me and I packed up. After re-writing my notes which had almost disintegrated due to the heavy dew, I headed off to my tent again. Sunday morning saw a free breakfast  put on by the organisers, loading of the car, a spot of solar viewing and off on the trip back home. All in all a wonderful weekend, and I'm sure I'll be back!                                                                                                                             Wayne Roberts                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
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